A Batty Week at MSNBC

These folks really need to listen to Krystal Ball

Frank Figliuzzi / MSNBC YouTube
August 8, 2019

Morning show hosts defending the inflammatory publication of conservative political donors by a prominent Democratic politician. A daytime host accusing the U.S. President of discussing "exterminating Latinos." A late-night analyst claiming the White House raising the American flags from half-mast on August 8 was a blow to the fight against neo-Nazis.

Morning, afternoon, and night, that all took place on MSNBC this week.

I never thought I'd say this, but these folks really need to listen to Krystal Ball.

In July, the former MSNBC host implored her old network to stop engaging in conspiracy theories, specifically around the Russia investigation. She accused hosts of chasing ratings and "building anticipation for a big reveal" about Donald Trump and Russia that would never happen. This naturally extends to the network going so deep into Resistance territory that it defends the indefensible and makes accusations of attempted genocide.

On Morning Joe, hosts Joe Scarborough and Mika Brzezinski leapt to the defense of Rep. Joaquin Castro (D., Texas) after he tweeted out a list of business owners and retirees in San Antonio who had made maximum contributions to Trump. "Sad to see," he said, as he accused them of "fueling a campaign of hate."

This was reprehensible conduct from a public official trying to shame his own constituents. Scarborough and Brzezinski saw no problem, however, inviting him onto the show Tuesday and repeating talking points that this was already "public information." For people who see dog whistles in their breakfast cereal, not recognizing this as incitement was a betrayal of how down the rabbit-hole they've gone.

"You did nothing that everybody didn't already know, is that correct?" Scarborough asked, as though that were the point.

Luckily, Willie Geist pointed out some progressives would likely harass these people for their sin of supporting a Republican. He got Castro to admit his goal was for people to "think twice about contributing to his [Trump's] campaign." Two of the people on the list have also donated to Castro in the past.

"Think twice." "Sad to see." These were threats, and Scarborough and Brzezinski's embarrassing defense of them undercuts their aspirations of being seen as fearless truth-tellers.

Then there was Nicolle Wallace, who said Trump was talking about "exterminating Latinos" in his rhetoric about immigrants:

RAUL REYES: In words and actions throughout his presidency, he's basically declared open-season on Latinos because we are one of his favorite targets . . . And it’s not just the language he used, you mentioned calling Mexicans drug dealers and rapists when he came down the escalator. That was day one. Then it escalated into attacks on Latino journalists. It escalated into attacks on the so-called, in his words, Mexican judge.


REYES: Then ramped it up again to the invasion, warning people of a caravan and words like infestation. What do you do with an infestation? With an infestation, the natural conclusion is attempt an extermination.


WALLACE: What do you do when, certainly, the last Republican president fought for, sought and, it's not ideal, but had 44 percent of Latino voters. So politically powerful inside the last Republican administration. President Obama used the power of the presidency to try to pass comprehensive immigration reform, with the Latino community, Latino leaders, at the table. You now have a president, as you said, talking about exterminating Latinos.

Anyone familiar with Wallace's self-important show is used to her brand of righteous hyperbole, but even this was too much. She apologized and said she "misspoke," although even that came off as phony, since she nodded along with her guest and repeated his own word. Too bad she folded: She had a kindred spirit in Brzezinski, who said Trump seemed to want mass shootings to occur.

Finally, there's Frank Figliuzzi, who told a wide-eyed Brian Williams that the Trump White House had given a victory to neo-Nazis with its decision to keep flags at half-mast until dusk on Aug. 8. Why? Because neo-Nazis like the number 8. Because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet. So it means Hitler. So August 8 is 8/8, and 8/8 means Heil Hitler. He actually said this:

We have to understand the adversary and the threat we're dealing with, and if we don't how they think, we'll never understand how to counter them. So it's little things and language and messaging that matters. The president said that we will fly our flags at half mast, until August 8. That’s 8/8. Now, I’m not going to imply that he did this deliberately, but I am using it as an example of the ignorance of the adversary that’s being demonstrated by the White House. The numbers 8-8 are very significant in neo-Nazi and white supremacy movement. Why? Because the letter ‘H’ is the eighth letter of the alphabet, and to them the numbers 8-8 together stand for ‘Heil Hitler.’ So we’re going to be raising the flag back up at dusk on 8/8.

"No one's thinking about this," the ex-FBI assistant director said in conclusion, always a good sign.

Williams listened to all this with a straight face and said it was "chilling" to hear.

And that was the point. A normal person sitting in Williams's anchor chair could have interrupted and said, "Frank. Stop. You're saying the White House should have moved the date of a flag-raising because it happens to be on a day on the calendar co-opted by some skinheads, and they might view this as some kind of victory? Are you listening to yourself?"

Williams didn't do this, because the narrative again superseded the facts. Trump isn't just a boor; he could be a genocidal maniac. Trump doesn't just use racially inflammatory language; he might be sending neo-Nazis calendar signal flares. Trump supporters don't deserve to just be argued with; they need to be named, shamed and humiliated.

Ball argued that kind of talk on Russia set the bar "impossibly high" for the Mueller investigation to deliver the goods on Trump. She was right.

Consider the following: Rachel Maddow suggested Rex Tillerson's selection as secretary of state was a Kremlin plot. John Heilemann wondered if Rep. Devin Nunes (R., Calif.) was a "Russian agent." Malcolm Nance said Russia's disinformation campaign could brainwash the U.S. to where it would "welcome an invasion." Jonathan Chait came on the air to defend his cover New York Magazine story that Trump could be a Russian asset dating back to the 1980s. Lawrence O'Donnell wondered if Russia orchestrated a Syrian chemical attack to aid Trump in a time of political need.

Reality is always going to disappoint after coverage like that.

MSNBC and anyone else in the media pining for Trump's departure should listen to Ball, or they'll be coming up with conspiracy theories for five more years instead of one.